Book review: “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape the Thucydides’s Trap?”

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“Destined for War: Can America and China Escape the Thucydides’s Trap?” by Graham Allison is a book that every American should read. Following the election of Joe Biden, the United States will most likely have a different approach to foreign affairs. Biden’s approach must address the situation and the threats that we will face. The book does a great job of detailing the next major conflict. More importantly, it explains how close we are to it. 

Chinese-American relations have always been tense, but as Allison analogizes, we are sitting on a ticking time bomb, and no one knows when it will go off. An informed populace is a safe populace, and Allison’s book explains the facts that matter in the battle for the title of the global superpower. 

Allison is one of the most distinguished political scientists in the U.S. Notably, he was the dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University between the years 1977 and 1989. In the book, Allison explains the concept of the Thucydides Trap. The Thucydides Trap is the theory that describes the relationship between an established power and a rising power and is based on the relationship and eventual war between Sparta and Athens.

The Thucydides Trap theorizes that the actions by a rising power to expand and grow, whether economically, militarily or in size, will be seen as an imminent threat to the established powers’ respective hegemony. The intention of the rising power does not matter because the established country acts based on the capabilities of the country, not what it says it will do. The situation, as a result, escalates between the two until an event happens that sets off a war. In the book, Allison says that 16 countries have met his standard for established power and rising power in all of recorded history. Twelve of those conflicts have ended in a major war. 

However, this book is not all doom and gloom. The major theme of the book is that war between the two countries is not inescapable. If both countries make radical and drastic changes, then a war that will rock the global economy and global relations can be avoided. 

As Allison mentions, we have 16 examples of countries that have messed up this dynamic and how 10 ended in a major war, and two ended in world wars. Allison specifically mentions and describes past scenarios that are eerily similar to the relationship between Beijing and Washington. More importantly, he explains what they did wrong and what we need to learn from their blunders and successes.

The book does a brilliant job laying out the scene for the dilemma that will plague our generation. Allison describes the rapid economic growth of China in a way that every person can understand and master. In this description, he begins to portray the reality that the United States will not be (and perhaps already is not) the economic hegemon and the global trendsetter. That in itself will rock most Americans to their core. That statement is only one of the many bold, shocking and true statements about the reality of the race for hegemony between China and the US.

War with China is closer than anyone cares to admit or acknowledge. Allison describes the situation with an incredible amount of detail yet also with great simplicity. You do not need a degree in political science or economics to understand his message. He also avoids the cardinal sin of academic-based books: monotony. The pace of the books flows very well while still maintaining the severity of both the situation and facts.

I would recommend “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap?” for anyone that wants to know more about the world we live in outside our borders. Americans are lulled into a sense of security with a propaganda machine that portrays us as the quintessential superpower. Allison’s book beautifully portrays the fact that there is a new player on the block, and they want to have their time on the alleged “throne.” How we react to this dynamic is unclear, but “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap?” gives a brilliant sneak peek and hypothesis.

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